Praying with Dirty Diapers
It's been almost one year since we found out we were expecting Zelie. The other night, I was reading old blog posts while trying to convince her to go to sleep, and I ended up re-reading the posts from when Gabriel died. Remembering the grief of that time, and now holding my Zelie... I realize what a miracle she is.
But it's not as if she's a replacement baby. She is our fourth child, a unique person in her own right. While having her heals some of that heartache, it also reminds me what I never got to experience with him...which in turn makes me more appreciative of her. After miscarrying Gabriel, then thinking we were miscarrying Zelie, then having such a difficult pregnancy, I don't take a moment with this baby for granted.
Having Gabriel as my child has changed me. And now, having this little girl in my life has changed me even more.
But all of this doesn't negate the hardness of mothering young children. It is easier to face that hardness having faced the alternative - secondary infertility, miscarriage, hyperemesis gravidarum. When having children doesn't come easily, it heightens your awareness of what gifts they are.
But this vocation stretches me in ways I never dreamed possible. This vocation makes me realize how selfish I am, how lacking in true humility, and how much I need God. I suppose that's the whole point of a vocation, right?
But I need a framework for understanding that this work I am engaged in isn't drudgery. It is anything but. Recently, I was at a meeting of a mom's book club, and someone reminded me that we're called to make everything we do into a prayer.
Of course. The Little Way of St. Therese. How could I have forgotten?
But I have a graduate degree, my second theology degree from the University of Notre Dame. I always had excellent grades, and a long list of accolades. I found my worth there. I still look for my worth there.
But my worth isn't there. My worth is in how I love, and in the fact that I am loved by God.
And the only work I do that actually matters, is the work of loving. Jesus emphasizes the value of giving a cup of cold water with love, because the little things matter.
In fact, little acts of love matter more than any accomplishments from my past. After St. Thomas Aquinas had his vision of the beatific vision while working on the Summa, he abandoned his project and called all his work "straw." If you've ever encountered the Summa Theological, you know it is magnificent. "Straw" is the last word I would use to describe it. But when faced with God's love? What isn't straw in comparison?
I really don't like experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum. But I am so grateful for my pregnancies, for the opportunity to experience real suffering, for the sake of loving another.
In a way, I sometimes have a twinge of sadness after an HG pregnancy, because my spiritual work is so straightforward during it. I suffer because I love my baby. I have ample opportunity to offer up suffering. It's awful to experience, but I grow a lot.
Do you know what's harder? Offering up that extra ten to fifteen pounds, lingering and making me feel like I am no longer my young, thin self. But even there is the challenge to love as Christ, who said, "This is my body, given up for you." Because, that is still what it is. A tired body, a body that's softer around the middle, a body still experiencing occasional bouts of nausea - it is still a body that is loving. It is a body given up for another.
That is, after all, why we have these bodies of ours. They are made to glorify God. They are made to show His love.
I love praying morning prayer when I first wake up. But sometimes, the prayer God wants from me first is changing a dirty diaper.
Because, guess what? Changing a dirty diaper, with love, is a actually a pretty big thing. It is more important than an alphabet soup of degree abbreviations after my name. It is more important that any of the other job titles I hold.
Small things with great love. It is enough.